Mandala for Chaos by "Embracing the Glass" (Jeff Sampson and Sean Carroll) Burning Shirt Music, 2002 Embracing the Glass (Burning Shirt Music, Box 501, Templeton, Mass. 01468) This unusual and original ambient album emerges out of the misty woods of central Massachusetts. Privately produced, it is the work of vocalist Jeff Sampson and instrumentalist Sean Carroll, who call their duo by the enigmatic name of "Embracing the Glass." According to Sampson, this is not about drinking but more about transparency and fragility. Each track on this album has its own individual quality. Sampson's ambient vocals, like those of the German Stephen Micus, have no words, just meaningless syllables, or no syllables at all. Sampson produces an impressively wide variety of sounds; he can hum, croon, moan, chant like a Tibetan monk, chant like a Western monk, or sing high counter-tenor. And in the weirdly juxtaposed "Great Lakes Chain Gang," he sounds like an improbable white Aborigine singing the blues. All the tracks, according to the notes, were created live in the studio, with no overdubs. This leads to some distortions and small extraneous sounds which you may or may not consider part of the production. The general mood of this album is slow and contemplative; only the Great Lakes chain gang has any rhythm at all. Track 1, "Around," moves in like the fog with waves of minimalist electronic sound, the chord increasing in complexity with each wave. Track 2, "Chasm of Faith," features 12 minutes of Sampson' plaintive pentatonics, accompanied by Carroll's cloudy guitar tonalities. "Great Lakes," track 3, which is my favorite, accompanies Sampson's glossolalic blues with a wry rhythm track sampled from didgeridoo and tabla. The longest track, #4, "After Dark," is their "Gothic" entry, with ominous, oozing instrumentals and croaking, dungeon vocals. The last, title track, "Mandala for Chaos," is reminiscent of neo-medieval ambient sounds like "Dead can Dance" or "Vas," with Sampson chanting sweetly like a vampire choirboy. Mandala for Chaos is the kind of album that has flourished with the widespread availability of recording and CD production technology, as well as Internet distribution. As independents, "Glass" have no marketer telling them what they have to do to sell to the masses, so they can produce as offbeat an album as they wish. This is not something for a casual listener; it's best if you are familiar with the minimalist ambient and Gothic genre. But if you like that cold moist wind from the north, and the moving shadows of dark branches, this album will fill your chill. Hannah M.G. Shapero 3/23/03
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